The Philippine government has “frozen” several bank accounts of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), a Catholic church group, on suspicions of “terrorism financing.”
In a statement, the RMP said the government’s Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) had ordered a 20-day freeze on the group’s accounts with the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI).
Founded in 1969, the RMP is a mission-partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, and is known in rural areas for services it provides to poor communities.
The AMLC has also asked the government’s solicitor general to ask the court of appeals to extend the freeze order against the RMP accounts for up to six months.
In its order, the AMLC claimed that there is “probable cause that the BPI accounts of RMP are related to terrorism financing.”
The church group said the order has prevented access to 11 bank accounts: two handled by the RMP central office, and nine managed by the RMP’s northern Mindanao chapter.
The money in the accounts are “for completed and ongoing projects of the RMP, as well as for its internal operations,” said the organization.
“In freezing our bank accounts, the AMLC is only depriving the rural poor of the help and services they deserve, and that the government refuses to provide,” said the RMP.
It rejected the allegations and denied any involvement in financing terroristic activities.
“Donations and funding received by the RMP are used to implement projects and programs to help the marginalized and oppressed,” it said.
“We have our mission and community partners to confirm this,” the group added.
Last year, the government filed charges against three RMP leaders: perjury against 80-year-old Good Shepherd nun Elena Belardo; arson, kidnapping, and robbery against 63-year-old Sister Emma Teresita Cupin of the Missionary Sisters of Mary congregation; and “frustrated murder” against 74-year-old lay worker Angie Ipong.
On Feb. 7, RMP lay worker Marielle Domequil and several others were arrested and detained after a series of dawn raids at the offices of RMP and other people’s organizations in Tacloban City.
In 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte personally ordered the deportation of Australian nun Patricia Fox, who had been serving farmers and farm workers in the Philippines for 27 years.
RMP members include religious women and men, priests, and lay people.
After signing 3-year, renewable membership contracts, RMP members help implement the group’s projects related to formation support, organizational capability-building for missionaries, and ministries in poor communities.
The organization will celebrate its 51st anniversary in August 2020.